There are approximately eight hundred million cafés in Brisbane. It seems that you can’t walk a block in an any trendy inner city suburb without encountering one. There are cafés in bookshops, cafés hidden down lane-ways, cafés in disused garages, vegan cafés and crappy major chain cafés (hello Coffee Club). But one thing that you absolutely will not find in Brisbane is a café populated by 53 living, breathing, purring felines.
For that you will need to take a trip to Japan – as I did recently – and head to one of the many ‘cat cafés’ where you can pay-by-the-hour to pat cats while enjoying a bite to eat or something to drink. It seems strange to Australians accustomed to the wide expanses of suburbia, but it is a concept which has thrived in cuteness-obsessed Japan where pet ownership is often prohibited in the tiny apartments that many Japanese live in.
Wikipedia’s article on cat cafés makes an unattributed claim that there are 39 of them in Tokyo alone (interestingly, one Tokyo café recently introduced a goat). They are an increasingly popular curiosity for western tourists, particularly since well-documented visits by Katy Perry and Karl Pilkington to the Hapineko Cat Café. One of the most well-known cat cafés in Tokyo though is the Calico Cat Café (猫カフェ きゃりこ) in Shinjuku, and it was this café that I visited last week.
Finding the place was not easy, but it was made harder by some confusing directions online. The best and easiest way to find the cafe is to take a JR train to Shinjuku, exit through the East Exit, and walk down the street to the left of the Studio Alta department store. Walk two blocks until you get to the very busy and wide Yasukuni Dori street. Cross the street and turn right – you’ll find the café on the 5th and 6th levels of the third building down from the corner.
Once you find the café and walk in you are greeted by the staff and presented with a card in English that outlines the rules and how it all works. The main rules are that there is no picking up the cats, no holding them in your arms and no annoying them as they sleep. You pay ¥1200 (about $AUD14) for the first hour and then ¥150 (about $2) per ten minutes after that, plus any snacks that you buy for either yourself or the cats.
After placing your shoes in the provided lockers, washing and sanitizing your hands (a process you repeat on your way out – it’s all very, very clean) and putting on the provided slippers, you enter the cat café and are met with the bizarre sight of literally dozens of cats. They are all over the place – inside cat boxes, playing on cat trees, sitting on specially made shelves, and lounging around on cat furniture.
The café itself occupies two stories, with the lower floor catering for both human and feline appetites with a selection of food and beverages available for humans and small containers of chicken meat for the cats. For humans there are books and videos and an Xbox, but obviously the big attraction is the cats and most of the customers (mostly young Japanese couples – there are only a couple of western tourists who are leaving as we arrive) can be seen playing with or feeding the cats.
It’s surprisingly peaceful in the café and the cats seem to live in harmony. Only the Singapura offers up any aggro. The Singapura is one of the world’s smallest breeds and has an exceedingly friendly temperament, but they can be aggressive little bastards. My parents have one and it too engages in Mike Tyson levels of aggression whenever another cat comes within a twenty metre radius.
As you might expect from an animal which sleeps anywhere up to 20 hours per day, many of the felines are asleep. For the most part they don’t show a lot of interest in the customers – that is until you buy them a small container of chicken meat upon which point you’re suddenly their best friend!
As mentioned earlier there is food and drink available for human consumption too but we passed up on that to spend more time with the cats. In total we and hour at the café, playing with the cats, feeding them, putting hats on them, and talking to the friendly staff who are versed enough in English to passionately talk about the cats.
It’s a bizarre but wonderful hour spent in the company of Calico Cat Café’s 53 cats – after all, how can you not be happy when you’re putting a miniature fedora on a Burmese?